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An eerie gap has developed between the statistics being released for the tourism industry's performance in the first six months of the year and the reality of the current situation.
While hotels in the North stand empty due to the Katyusha rocket attacks in the area and occupancies in the rest of the country's hotels are expected to decline as fighting continues, the Central Bureau of Statistics reported this week a 33 percent rise in tourist overnight stays countrywide in the first six months of the year.
When factoring in Israeli lodgings, total hotel stays increased 13% for the period but CBS noted that because of the security situation it had not received complete data from hotels in the North.
Despite that omission, it reported that in real terms, there were 9.3 million overnight stays in the from January through June, of which 5.2 million were Israeli vacationers and 4.1 million from foreign tourists. In addition, the first half of the year showed an increase in occupancies in every region in the country - the North rising from 43.3% to 51.7%; Haifa from 49.4% to 53.2%; Jerusalem from 46.5% to 58.1%; the center from 44.6% to 53%; Tel Aviv from 59.4% to 67.2%; and the South increasing from 59.2% to 63.4%.
One month later, an Israel Hotels Association spokesperson said the occupancies now stood at zero for the North and Haifa, while the rest of the country is still showing high occupancies as tourists moved from the North elsewhere and many residents are being accommodated in the country's hotels.
Hotels in Jerusalem are currently 60% full, those in the center and Tel Aviv are 70% full, while those in Eilat are enjoying 95% occupancy, and at the Dead Sea 90%, she said.
Looking for loyalists
As the average cancellations streaming in from foreign visitors stand about a month in advance, the focus has turned to tourism that will embrace the country through the conflict.
"My feeling is that there will be a much stronger response from the Jewish community this time," said one member of a UJC solidarity mission to Israel this week, noting that in a previous visit during the lows of the Intifada there was a stronger presence of Christian loyalists in the country.
The fear this time, according to industry professionals, is that the conflict will have a longer-term affect on Christian pilgrims for whom the North has particular significance.
While, so far, the extent of solidarity missions have been among the leadership of Jewish communities in the US and Europe, groups of lay people also are starting to arrive.
Following its campaign to "Spend Shabbat in Jerusalem," Israir said its first group of 20 Jewish tourists will arrive Thursday morning for the program. The airline said it has received a number of calls from groups wanting to come "now" to help boost tourism, which is suffering as the conflict continues
Summer deals still on
Meanwhile, travel operators continue to compete for share of passengers still traveling abroad this summer.
As part of its strategy to market its one-way tickets, German airline HapagFly is offering one-way tickets, in either direction, to various cities in Germany for $130, including taxes.
The price for flights to Berlin, Cologne, Munich, Dusseldorf and Hanover is on offer for specified dates extending as far ahead as February 2007.
Yossi Tours has presented a deal for three nights, bed and breakfast, over a weekend in a 3-star hotel in Prague for $439 per person, with the flight leaving August 2.
Elsewhere in Europe, Shelly Tours is offering a package to southeast Belgium for â‚¬649 per person, including return flights from Tel Aviv to Brussels and 7-nights in bungalows on a sleep-only basis and car rental for the week.
Shelly Tours also recently signed a wholesale agreement with European family hotel Chain Kinder Hotels to market the company in Israel.